Capitol Beat: New Water Bills with One Month to Go

By Larry Morandi

As the Colorado General Assembly nears its three-quarters post (adjournment is set for May 9), two new water bills have been introduced and heard in committee.

The more contentious is House Bill 18-1301, which addresses water quality impacts of mineral mining. It would require reclamation plans for new or amended hard rock mining permits to demonstrate an “end date” for water quality treatment to ensure compliance with water quality standards. The bill would also eliminate the option of “self-bonding”—an audited financial statement that the mine operator has sufficient assets to meet reclamation responsibilities—and require a bond to guarantee adequate funds to protect water quality, including treatment and monitoring costs.

At its initial hearing before the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee on April 2, Representative Dylan Roberts, one of the bill’s sponsors, said it aims to “avoid creating more chronically polluting mines.” He contended that if a company goes out of business, self-bonding wouldn’t protect the state or others from having to cover cleanup costs. Roberts emphasized that it would apply only to new operations, not to existing mines, and would elevate water protection to the same level as land protection. Witnesses testifying in support of the bill included elected officials, farmers and water-dependent businesses in areas impacted by mining activities.

The Colorado Mining Association, Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry, and Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado testified in opposition to the bill, saying it was unnecessary and would send the wrong message that new mining was not welcome in the state. They argued that existing rules adopted by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety provide sufficient water quality protection, and maintained there is no evidence that self-bonding has caused problems. The bill was reported favorably out of committee to the House Finance Committee on a 7-4 vote. Finance sent it to the Appropriations Committee two days later on a 6-5 vote.

Unlike HB 18-1301, the second new bill received unanimous support in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee on March 28. Senate Bill 18-218 would fund several Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) projects, including those that are part of a grant program to help implement Colorado’s Water Plan. Among other provisions, it would appropriate $7 million to CWCB in fiscal year 2019 for grants in five water plan categories: storage and supply/demand gap ($3 million); agriculture ($1 million); conservation, land use and drought planning ($1 million); water education, outreach and innovation ($500,000); and environment/recreation ($1.5 million). The total amount is down from $9 million in FY 2018 due to combining the storage and supply/demand gap categories (which were funded at $3 million and $2 million, respectively). The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

IMG_0094Larry Morandi writes on environment and natural resources issues. His articles on drought, the Colorado River and public access to water have appeared in State Legislatures magazine. He recently retired from the National Conference of State Legislatures, a think tank based in Denver, where he was Director of State Policy Research. He previously worked for the Colorado Legislative Council as staff to water committees. Larry has lived in Colorado for the past 40 years, splitting his time between Denver and Summit County.

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